WHO IS MARY LOU?

We’re sitting inside a restaurant in Ramona. We’re supposed to be outside on the patio, but we aren’t. It’s a lush, warm day in our town and here we sit in the gloom at two rectangular, wooden tables. I long to be outdoors with the yellow butterflies and the breeze.

One of my old school friends who is sitting across from me says, “The other ladies decided it was too hot and they wanted to be in the air conditioning.”

I look around. There’s four of us sitting two and two across the table from each other. They are three of my former grammar school friends; Nancee, Lancey and Chips. We four and several more of us ‘girls’ go some place together every September and some of us meet in between times for lunch.

Today, there are a number of ladies I don’t know. However, it turns out I do know them. But, before I remember who they are, I look around. Damn. They are old. Several are in their 90’s. Some younger but still older than we four girls are.

I say, “Who are these people?”

Nancee says, “It’s all people you know, Venus. We meet every month. It started out as a card party with some of our mothers and then the mothers all died and we kind of took it over. I thought you girls might like to see them.”

A very blonde lady bounces over to us.
“You remember Tina,” Nancee says, “she used to baby sit us when we were kids.”

Another lady waves to me from the end of the table. It’s my junior high school gym teacher, now rollicking into her eighties.
“Remember me?” she shouts.

“Yes,” I say. I’m remembering the little black shorts we had to wear in her P.E. Class. I make a face at Lancey and say, “Every Sunday night we had to iron those shorts and iron that white cotton blouse. We had to iron the blouse with starch.”

“The blouse with the snaps down the front!” Lancey says.

Yes, I remember those snaps. It comes back clearly, the iron running bumpety-bumpety over those metal snaps.

“I hated P.E.” I shout to my teacher. “All that running, running, running you made us do. All we did was run.”

My teacher yells back, “I liked to run!”

How well I remember.

“But,” my teacher is saying, “when they moved me into the high school to teach I couldn’t teach P.E. anymore because I never had a teaching credential to teach Physical Education.”

Things were different back then.

One by one, my friends point to various ladies and tell me who they are. Age has changed them so much that I can barely find the resemblance I used to know.

Several are classmates four years ahead of me. Some are mothers of classmates; mothers that I knew well in our then tiny town.
One is the lady who used to own the fabric store. I spent many, many hours in that store, feeling and sniffing and choosing among the fabrics that were lined in stand-up rows. I remember all the sewing lessons, too, that this lady and my mother taught me.

I recall the 4-H project where we girls had to sew our 4-H project; another damn white blouse. By the time I got the button holes mastered, the blouse was grimy and I had outgrown it!

Eventually, I sewed all my clothes.

I’m remembering a few days ago when I went on a garden tour with my friend Faye.

We stopped at our friend Sally’s house, where her entire place is a cottage garden. Her twenty year old daughter stepped out of the house in a floaty, white, tiny daisy patterned sun-dress with a cummerbund. Immediately, I was thrown back in time to when I was fifteen and sewed myself a soft blue, tiny daisy patterned spaghetti-strap dress with a cummerbund. I am instantly overcome with longing for it. Where did it go? I don’t know and I suppose it doesn’t matter as I weighed 98 lbs then and today I might get my two arms into the dress and nothing else.

I sigh and look around the table in the restaurant at all these old ladies. I look at my friends. They look at me. We are thinking the same thing which is, ‘Gads. I don’t look that old. Do I?”

Chips is sitting next to me talking across the table to Nancee and Lancey. For a moment I am distracted by the eighty year old lady sitting to my right who is dissecting her roast beef sandwich with her spoon.

Chips is saying something of interest and I swing my head back toward her and say, “May Lou who? Who’s Mary Lou?”

My three friends stop chatting and look at me. I know I have missed something interesting but no one enlightens me so I persist.

“Mary Lou, who? Who’s Mary Lou?”

Chips looks at me and says, “Are you nuts? I said I wish I could remember who married who! Not ‘Mary Lou.’

Then we all break out laughing. I slap the table a few times and kick back in my chair.
Lancey tells us something strange that she misheard, but I can’t remember what it was so I can’t tell you what it was.

Our lives are getting more and more like this.

After the lunch, Chips comes to my house for a short visit on her way home down the mountain.

We’re sitting on the front patio under the huge wisteria that winds and leafs over the top of the patio. The dried purple flowers have dropped and are dropping all over the ground. They cover the chairs, fly into our faces and grab hold of our hair.

We talk about our childhood together. Chips reminds me of Coyote Jack.

“He was an old World War 1 Vet and he was an alcoholic. Remember him? My Dad let him live in a little shed on our ranch, right across the road from us; my Dad, my Mom and my brother and sister and me. At the end of every month Coyote Jack would get his government check and all his alcoholic friends would come over to the shed and drink his check up with him. Then they’d all run over or gallup horses around the property, shout and scream and shoot their guns into the air. It was really dangerous. It could have killed us but that’s how things were back then.”

“Remember when he went into town one night at The Turkey Inn, got really drunk and started walking home? Somewhere along the way he passed out, and his legs were slung onto the road and that lady in the big car ran over his legs? It didn’t even bother him.”

I do. We scream with laughter.

“What was that you said today, Chips, when I kept saying, ‘Mary Lou who’? I know it was very funny but I can’t remember what you really said.”

Chips can’t remember, either. We think and think.

“This is scaring me,” I say. “It was funny, why can’t we remember it?”

Then I tell her about suddenly remembering the blue sun dress that came into my mind the other day.

“It was so clear, Chips. I haven’t thought of that dress in 45 years and all of a sudden, there it is! I can feel it on my body, I can smell it and I felt like crying because I miss it so much. What is wrong with me? Is this normal? I’ve had other things lately, pop up from the far, far past that I haven’t thought of in years and years and years. Boom! There it is. Do you think this happens as the brain gets older?”

Chips doesn’t know, but it happens to her, too.

We puzzle some more over ‘Mary Lou.’ It is driving us nuts. We can’t remember the punch line.

Eventually, Chips stands up to leave. Her butt is covered with dried flowers and cat hair. This has been a fun day and we’ll see each other, again, in September at Lancey’s Northern California ranch.

Two hours later, the phone rings. It’s Chips. I can hear the wind whistling into her car from an open window.

“I’m driving down the freeway,” she shouts. “I wish I could remember who married who!”

“Why are you saying that?” I ask.

“That’s the answer to ‘who is Mary Lou!'”

Oh my gosh. I am so relieved. So is Chips. We will both be able to sleep tonight. No wrestling with trying to find a lost part of our day.

Simple things can mean so much.


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